Starr Strong, Dr. Brian Sargent Say Goodbye

Chelsea community welcomes new caregivers

Roger Sargent and Rebecca Savidge

Chelsea Health Center patient Roger Sargent of Tunbridge chats with his new physician assistant, Rebecca Savidge.

The metaphorical passing of the baton at the Chelsea Health Center Thursday afternoon was reminiscent of the perfect race. There was unparalleled effort, emotion and cheers of support.

On Thursday Chelsea welcomed new caregivers Dr. Amanda Hepler and Rebecca Savidge, both family medicine providers, and said goodbye to Dr. Brian Sargent and physician assistant Starr Strong.

Dr. Sargent is transitioning to full-time Emergency Department work, something that will allow him more time for sugaring, pruning apple trees and deer hunting, he said.

Strong is retiring after 21 years.

Ernest Kennedy and Starr Strong

Ernest Kennedy of Chelsea hugs retiring Chelsea Health Center physician assistant Starr Strong. To Kennedy, Strong is more than the local caregiver. She was the dear friend of his daughter Judy Alexander, who lost her battle with cancer on Sunday.

Community-owned, the health center is part of Gifford Health Care. Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director, and former Chelsea doctor, Josh Plavin introduced the outgoing and incoming teams.

Dr. Hepler comes to Chelsea from New Hampshire and, before that, a very rural practice in Maine. She was looking to find that again and has in Chelsea. “It’s been great so far. Everyone’s been very welcoming,” said the warm hearted Dr. Hepler.

“I think you grew up in this clinic,” Dr. Plavin said of Savidge.

“With Dr. Plavin,” she replied, indicating he was her caregiver.

Dr. Josh Plavin and Dr. Amanda Helper

Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director Dr. Josh Plavin introduces new Chelsea family physician Dr. Amanda Hepler.

“Which is not making me feel old at all,” he said.

Savidge practiced in Plainfield before coming home to Chelsea. “I appreciate the community letting me come back to the community as a provider,” she said to the standing room only crowd gathered in the health center’s waiting room.

Savidge thanked Dr. Sargent and Strong for building such an outstanding clinic and acknowledged that she and Dr. Hepler had some big shoes to fill.

Dr. Brian Sargent speaks

The crowd laughs as Dr. Brian Sargent says a warm goodbye to Chelsea patients. He has transitioned to full-time Emergency Department work at Gifford.

“I want to thank you all for trusting me with your care. Like Amanda, I’ve felt very welcome,” said Dr. Sargent who has practiced in Chelsea for five years.

But even for Dr. Sargent, the day was about Strong. “She’s (Strong has) been a joy to work with and a good friend. You won’t find a more compassionate person on the planet,” he said.

“Starr taught me about community,” Dr. Plavin added. “Starr taught me about relationships, as well as medicine, and is really the rock that has been the continuous presence all of this time. Starr is the Chelsea Health Center.”

Starr Strong and Virginia Button

Starr Strong, retiring Chelsea physician assistant, is embraced by patient Virginia Button of Chelsea.

Her patients who were present – and there were many – agreed.

“She’s been my doctor forever,” said Roger Sargent, a Tunbridge resident who has already transitioned his care to Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “I think she (Strong) has a nice lady taking her place, two of them.”

Virginia Button embraced Strong and didn’t let go.

“I’ve been with Starr since she’s been at the health center,” she said, tearing up. “It’s like you’ve lost part of your life.”

Joe Woodin and Starr Strong

Gifford President Joe Woodin and Starr Strong share a laugh.

But Button was optimistic.

“I’m sure the two that are here will fill her shoes,” she said, “eventually.”

Ernest Kennedy gave Strong three hugs. One for himself, one for his wife and one for his daughter, the late Judy Alexander, Strong’s dear friend and a former nurse at the Chelsea Health Center who passed away Sunday and whose loss was felt at Thursday’s gathering.

Kennedy was there to offer his support for Strong, who moved into Alexander’s home during a final days to provide constant vigil, but he wasn’t exactly supportive of Strong’s decision to retire. “She’s not old enough, and we need her.”

Strong disagreed, but not before expressing her thanks for the community’s support.

“I can’t tell you how rich I feel. I’m more grateful than I can tell you. The relationships we have when we go in and sit down and close the (exam room) door; that is a sacred spot.”

She is finally able to step away from those relationships, she says, because she is leaving her patients in the “graceful, beautiful and knowledgeable hands” of Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “It gives me joy in my heart rather than sadness in my soul,” Strong said.

National Health Service Corps Helping to Bring Primary Care Providers to Under-Served Areas

The National Health Service Corps’ Corps Community Day is this Thursday, October 11th.  Click here to find out more.

RANDOLPH – When Dr. Josh Plavin was in medical school, a federal program supporting primary care providers, the National Health Service Corps, helped pay for some of his education costs.

“I was a National Health Service Corps scholar,” Dr. Plavin notes.

Upon graduation, the program required that he work two years at a National Health Service Corps approved site in a designated primary care shortage area. Dr. Plavin looked to rural Vermont.

“At the time there were no designated sites in Vermont with job openings,” says Dr. Plavin, who worked with his employer of choice – Gifford Medical Center – to have the Chelsea Health Center designated as an approved site. The site was approved in part because neighboring Tunbridge was, and still is, defined as a primary care shortage area.

That was in 2001 and Dr. Plavin served the Chelsea area as both a pediatrician and internal medicine provider for the next seven years.

Today, Dr. Plavin serves as medical director of all of Gifford’s primary care practice locations – in Berlin, Bethel, Chelsea, Randolph and Rochester. As such, he sees the benefit of the federal program from new eyes – that of a hospital administrator trying to staff primary care practices in rural areas.

“Medical school is so expensive that there are fewer and fewer doctors going into primary care because the simple math is it is not viable without loan repayment. It’s certainly not viable in a rural area,” says Dr. Plavin on what nationally is Corps Community Day, held today during National Primary Care Week.

Continue reading